It’s that time again(and has been at its peak for two or three months)!! Time for our dogs, and some cats, to experience the same torment that we do… atopic dermatitis or more simply, environmental allergies.
Atopic dermatitis(AD) is basically an overreaction to something in our animals’ surroundings. The body responds by making a lot of chemicals that cause extreme itchiness. I have seen some dogs lick all of the fur off of all four feet due to intense AD.
Many conditions can cause similar signs such as mange and yeast or bacterial infections so you will need the help of your vet to determine whether your dogs suffers from this. Unfortunately, there is no diagnostic test for AD. Instead, we exclude other diseases and take the signs, history and response to treatments in order to diagnose. Most dogs are less than three years old and will be licking their feet so much that it even bothers the owners. Some dogs lick all night and cannot sleep, and thus, neither can their family!!
Treatment is often confusing for many clients. First of all, although I mentioned there are no diagnostic tests for AD, once we have eliminated other diseases, there are skin tests and blood tests to help us determine what things in your dog’s environment are causing her problems. We can then have serum manufactured that can hopefully desensitize them so that the next year is not so bad.
Not all desensitization treatments work 100%, so you are left with the other treatment plans such as oral medications, supplements and topical products(applied directly to skin).
Antihistamines such as Benadryl, Claritin, Zyrtec, and Atarax can have some limited success in controlling AD, but most dogs need additional help.
Cyclosporine and the trade-name drug Atopica(notice the clever naming) are more effective, but as with most drugs, have some potential side effects. Most commonly, cyclosporine can cause vomiting or nausea and in some instances can negatively affect the liver. Thus, if your dogs is on this drug, I would recommend keeping an eye on liver values via blood testing.
The most commonly used drug to treat AD is prednisone which is a steroid, but not the kind making sports headlines. Those kind of steroids are anabolic and cause muscle growth, etc. Prednisone is a catabolic steroid and causes a decrease in inflammation, itchiness and at high enough doses can suppress the immune system. It also has some side effects like increased thirst, urinating, panting and appetite. Usually, we can find a dose that helps the itchiness and minimizes the side effects.
At very high doses or used indiscriminately, steroids can harm the liver. When I first got out of school, I thought steroids were evil and dangerous, but used correctly, they are the one class of drug we could not do without. In ten years, I cannot remember a single liver problem when treating atopic dermatitis. However, I still check blood work on any patient needing them for four or more months of the year.
Finally, AD has a genetic component as it does in the human world. Dogs with allergies to things in their environment will likely give birth to dogs that will also suffer. Just one more reason to spay and neuter your pets!!
Hopefully, with the cooling weather, we will be seeing our allergic dogs getting the break they deserve and with less licking at night, so will you.